Wharton is a special place. It really is.
I vividly remember the first few days of Pre-Term. It’s a special feeling to know you’re on the cusp of what promises to be a transformative experience. With each day, I became more and more excited about the opportunities that lay ahead. Though I have to be honest: at times, the choice paralysis and FOMO overwhelmed me. If you’re a 2Y reading this, you know exactly what I mean. To you incoming 1Ys, don’t stress too hard. This too shall pass. I assure you that everything will work itself out.
It did for me. I spent most of the school year experimenting with different paths. I was absolutely certain, however, about wanting to work on something where I could make a big impact on a challenging issue. After many coffee chats with second years and phone calls with alums, I discovered that my sweet spot blended finance, entrepreneurship, technology, and policy.
It wasn’t until spring break that I found my home in the renewable energy and cleantech space. I attribute my good fortune to taking several classes in the spring with some of Wharton’s best professors. These included Sarah Light and Arthur van Benthem, who teach Environmental Management and Energy Markets, respectively. They challenged me to think critically about how I could leverage my MBA education to directly address the climate crisis. So at semester’s end, I applied for a student grant from Penn’s Kleinman Center for Energy Policy. In exchange for writing a blog post (well… two, actually), they funded my visit to the National Renewable Energy Lab’s investor forum in Colorado, There, I connected with the industry’s leading investors and entrepreneurs, and got to see breakthrough innovations first-hand.
Climate change is the most important challenge we as MBAs will face over the course of our professional lives. It increasingly strikes at the very heart of business strategy and affects nearly every industry in which we will work: finance, technology, real estate, infrastructure, transportation, healthcare, food and agriculture, consumer packaged goods, and of course, energy. In the U.S. alone, climate change projects to cause $360 billion of economic losses, property damage, and healthcare costs over each of the next 10 years. Yeah, it’s pretty daunting.
There is a silver lining though. A massive one. Climate change also represents one of the greatest economic opportunities of our generation. Bold action between now and 2030 could yield an economic gain of $26 trillion and creation of 65 million new low-carbon jobs, relative to business as usual. I see climate change as the 21st century version of the Apollo program, where the mission to put man on the moon galvanized America towards one of the greatest achievements in human history and inspired a nation to dream.
Wharton gave me the confidence to pursue a moonshot summer internship. It was a journey of persistence, but on May 14th, my patience was rewarded. I received and accepted my offer from Breakthrough Energy Ventures. Breakthrough is a $1 billion venture capital fund launched by Bill Gates in December 2016. It is backed by many of the world’s top business leaders, including Michael Bloomberg, Jeff Bezos, Ray Dalio, Masayoshi Son, Jack Ma, and Muskesh Ambani. The fund’s mission is to invest in cutting-edge innovations that significantly reduce our carbon footprint across electricity, transportation, buildings, manufacturing, and agriculture. I got to work alongside leading investors and technologists who are dedicating their careers to solving the climate crisis. Breakthrough provided me with an incredible summer experience, and I learned so much over my 12 weeks.
As I reflect on my return to campus, I believe we as Wharton MBAs are uniquely positioned to step up. That starts with me doing my part. As an officer with Wharton’s Sustainable Business Coalition, we are planning a Captain Planet-themed “Planet Week,” set for the week of February 10th (and coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, launched 50 years ago in Philadelphia). I also serve on the boards of the Energy Club and Wharton Energy Conference. For the latter, I’m organizing a panel that will feature corporations that are taking bold action on climate change in ways that are strategic for their core businesses.
Wharton explicitly states on its alumni fundraising campaign site that it wants to lead in defining the Future of Finance, Entrepreneurship & Innovation, and Analytics. Indeed, solving climate change will be capital-intensive, call for new ventures scaling revolutionary technologies, and require sound, data-driven decisions. Our school has taken encouraging early steps, such as the recent creation of the Business, Energy, Environment, and Sustainability “BEES” major. But more is needed. And quickly. Climate change requires urgent action within the next 12 years to avoid catastrophic damage to the natural systems that underpin human civilization, let alone the modern economy.
Outside of the Wharton bubble, I’ve been encouraged by the momentum across Penn. The University has made Driving Energy Solutions a top priority for its $4.1 billion Power of Penn capital campaign. Alumni and major donors have responded, committing record gifts of $30 million to the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy and $50 million to the Vagelos Institute for Energy Science and Technology. As MBAs, we can and should do a better job collaborating with other schools at Penn. After all, isn’t business school about stretch experiences?
Wharton is a school that grows leaders who act decisively to meet tomorrow’s biggest challenges. The biggest challenge of them all is climate change. Now is ripe for action.
Here are three things you can do to act on climate change:
- SIGN OUR PETITION that asks Wharton to step its game on climate change. We’ve already gotten over 200 Wharton MBAs to sign. Your signature will go a long way towards helping us demonstrate widespread student interest. Sign the petition.
- JOIN OUR COMMUNITY of students across Penn’s graduate schools where we are building a movement to apply our education towards building climate change solutions. Join our group.
- READ UP on this primer for MBA students, “Climate Change and Business: What Every MBA Student Needs to Know.” It does a terrific job breaking down the economic risks and opportunities of climate change. Read the paper.
And if you have more specific ideas or just want to learn more, feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m more than happy to find time to chat.